E-commerce & Customer Experience. How Can AI Technology Help Online Stores?

AI tools improve e-commerce customer experience

Creating a Great Customer Experience for E-commerce

E-commerce customer experience refers to customers’ perception of a brand based on the interactions across the internetAn excellent customer experience differentiates a business from the competitors.  It impacts a company’s reputation, customer retention and customer loyalty. Every element of the customer journey across multiple touchpoints is crucial for proving a superior customer experience.  

Digital technologies allow e-commerce to connect with customers through different touchpoints, thereby creating efficient management of customer service. The use of digital devices in various steps of the purchasing process, as well as consumer recommendations and communications through social media, are all examples of much broader and vigorous impacts. 

Introducing AI to customer‑to‑brand interaction is a game‑changer that can improve e‑commerce performance and competitiveness on the market. Conversational AI solutions such as chatbots are becoming an integral part of the digitalization of e‑commerce businesses as they enable better customer engagement and provide more personalized services across platforms. With increasing consumer expectations, investing in the right AI technology seems like a smart e‑commerce strategy.

Mie Bilberg Business Influencer

We asked Mie Bilberg, business influencer,  trusted advisor, consultant, and keynote speaker, to share her insight into e-commerce, customer experience, and technology allowing businesses to adapt to ever‑changing buyers’ demands. 

Mie Bilberg specializes in digital transformation, B2C and B2B e-commerce, eMarketplaces, online development, sales and marketing, and holds +10 years of leadership experience in commercial and innovations teams.

Bilberg was a local lead of digital transformation for the Danish market at Carlsberg.  

Price is No Longer the Only Incentive –­ the Customer Experience is

In recent years, e-commerce has drastically grown. Consumers choose easiness and convenience of online shopping. Competitive price used to be a deciding factor when consumers were making their purchases. A fair price is not the key to winning customers anymore. Customer experience moves front and impacts buyers’ decisions.

Mie Bilberg observes three main changes of e-commerce:   

  • E-commerce is the biggest trend for B2B: During the last five years, a shift in B2B trade has been observed. E-commerce is one of the biggest trends in B2B sales. Most businesses are looking into the optimization of resources,  effective processes, and growth. E-commerce innovation used to come from B2C, but now B2B will be a leading star.
  • Customer experience becomes more important than the price: Price is no longer the incentive that makes people shop online. Saving time and having an improved customer experience is the number one reason.  Studies show that 86% of the customers are willing to pay more for better customer experience
  • Omnichannel is a new norm: E-commerce has changed from being a game for the pure player grocery, to be a part of any business with sales for either consumers or professionals. Offline stores are expanding to online, online are expanding to offline. The new standard is to have an omnichannel strategy.
Omnichannel Shopping Journey
Online shopping is an omnichannel journey.

Consumers are Increasingly Demanding – Online Reputation is Crucial

An e-commerce web shop can no longer get away with slow or lost delivery, nor can a customer support department get away with not replying customers’ enquiries, without the customers’ bad experience ending up in a negative review. We should keep in mind that online ratings and reviews are crucial for consumer security.  

Mie Bilberg explains that today’s customers expect more because they know the value of their attention. E-commerce transactions happen on customers’ conditions and involve minimal time.

Therefore, customer experience is such a huge subject right now. AI technology can help with increasing consumer demand.  The right technology is out there, adds Mie Bilberg, but e-commerce businesses need to implement it in a way so it will enhance customer experience. This can be done by introducing 24/7 customer service for online stores. More and fast is a new standard.

Customers award brands with repeat business and by sharing their positive experience online as well as with friends and family.  In other words, excellent online shopping experience results in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.  

Brand´s online reputation
Favorable reviews foster customer trust and loyalty.

If we try and paint a full picture of consumers’ expectations, we must look at what kind of inquiries an e-commerce website gets. 

  • First, customers expect round-the-clock assistance with the issues they encounter (from technical issues on the website to shipping to payments etc.). These inquiries are commonly solved by the company’s customer support/customer service team. If a company wants to scale without having to open an office in every time zone, a customer service chatbot is pretty much a no-brainer.
  • Second – and this is a newer trend – customers increasingly expect e-commerce websites to offer advice and guidance when purchasing a product on their website. Think of the complexities that any e-commerce within the garment and clothing industry has to face. What size shirt should the customer buy? Is the fit true to size, or does the brand recommend sizing up? Does a certain pair of trousers come in a different color?

Customer Experience as a New Way of E-commerce Marketing

Mie Bilberg emphasizes that five years ago, a common sentence among marketeers was if you do not exist online, you do not exist. However, today we all exist online, whether we want it or not. 

A company’s online reputation can make or break their business. A customer can rate their experience, and they can take a photo of a product and share it with others or tweet it. Mie Bilberg explains that e-commerce might not have control over customer behavior, but what they can control is building the best online brand.

“Customer experience is a new way of marketing. A brand is defined by those who experience it.”​Mie Bilberg

Thus, meetings customers’ demands and providing the best customer and user experience is crucial for e-commerce success. Customer satisfaction (CSAT) is a key measure for any successful business. It is one of the most important indicators of purchase intentions and loyalty.   

How you meet the expectations of your customers can not only make them stay but grant you recognition among your target group. With a competitive e-commerce environment, customers can easily switch from one brand to another. 

A customer waiting for ages to get a comment from the brand is not acceptable anymore. The longer a customer has to wait for an answer, the lower the satisfaction score. The more helpful an answer is (aka: solve their issue fast, and even overdeliver if possible), the higher the satisfaction score.

“Websites, web shops, and social media channels are critical touchpoints. The technology can help in serving and providing the personalized experience through omnichannel.”​Mie Bilberg

E-commerce websites that don’t offer round-the-clock support risk: 

  • losing the opportunity to convert visitors into sales and, 
  • losing actual customers if they don’t get their issue resolved quickly. 

These are basic, but important facts, to keep in mind in order to succeed in any e-commerce business. 

Use Technology to Support Your Humans and Beat the Competition

E-commerce is a highly competitive space. Automating processes with RPA (robotic process automation) tools and using AI chatbots to support different departments within any company can make a real difference in a company’s effort to stay ahead of the competition.

Mie Bilberg explains that many tasks can be handled by standardized rules, which is much more than what most people think. For example, 80% of the questions customer service receives every day can be automated. The listing of your products in your web catalogue, pricing, and control and monetizing of the thousands of different customer journeys, marketing campaigns can be improved with the use of technology.

AI tools provide a personalized user experience, which positively impacts buyers’ shopping decisions.

Imagine two competing e-commerce websites that sell similar products, at a similar price point, and ship to the same locations. Moreover, for the sake of argument let us assume the product being sold is freaking great.

What are the determining factors that make a person choose to buy from one e-commerce website over another?

  • Brand: A consumer might favor a company that is well-branded to answer their needs or a more established, well-known brand. 
  • Referral: Friends, family or influencers have recommended the brand and can vouch for it. 
  • User experience on the website: Customer journey improves with ease of use interface, clarity, lack of friction, and enough product information. 
  • Customer experience: Customers tend to have an option to contact support in the moment of the purchase and quality of the support received  

What factors can an e-commerce control? Surprise: probably all the above. 

To be successful, an e-commerce business needs to put together an excellent user and customer experience with the help of technology. The referral will come when an experience is perceived as excellent.

Your employees cannot do this alone. Use the available technology to improve and scale your overall customer experience. Ever heard the saying “Work smarter, not harder”? Technology enables humans to work smarter.

Mie Bilberg explains that technology helps e-commerce constantly stay connected and on track with the customers. Data gathered by AI tools is key to keeping up with ever-changing demands of buyers.

“AI provides businesses with structured data on a daily basis, and we should take advantage of it.”​Mie Bilberg

E-commerce needs to use technology to know their customers better in order to provide more personalized and contextualized communication with buyers.

Data can help e-commerce to minimize surprises and navigate and act quickly. “Of course, data can be very valuable if we gather it from the whole customer journey and not only some parts of it”, adds Mie Bilberg.

The Impact of Technology on Customer Experience

Mie Bilberg was a local lead in digital transformation for the Danish market at Carlsberg. She explains that adopting new technologies was a first step in this process. To achieve business objectives, learning how to use technology, and understanding the full potential of it is crucial.

However, she adds, new technology disrupts old processes. Re-definition and optimization of the processes are required. What can we learn from the process of digitalization of e-commerce? Mie Bilberg summarizes that the process resulted in better customer experience, less churn, more loyal customers, and higher average order per customer online versus offline.

To illustrate, the customers voted Carlsberg among the Top 5 of Best B2B Webshops in 2019 – Danish e‑commerce Award FDIH. The same year they achieved the highest customer satisfaction score within the last ten years. Furthermore, digitalization had a positive impact internally in the company. The Online Sales Team was the team with the highest employee engagement score.

Conversational AI Chatbots for E-commerce

Conversation AI chatbot is one of the tools that can give a competitive edge over other e-commerce businesses by providing a seamless customer experience. When the smart AI solution has access to a company’s CRM system or a database, it can easily provide personalized service.

From a customer perspective, chatbots are easy to interact with. That is because AI chatbots are using NLU/NLP (natural-language understanding/processing) to recognize intents, can respond in a human-like way, and can perform different tasks. Specifically, for an e-commerce website, they can:

  • facilitate real-time communication with customers
  • support customer service
  • answer customers’ queries on different platforms including social media accounts
  • work as a shopping assistant
  • provide personalized product recommendations
  • collect customer data
  • collect feedback
  • improve the on-site user experience

“Conversational commerce is the next new standard for e‑commerce.”​Mie Bilberg

Introduction of conversational AI chatbot depends on the purpose of the bot, the problem that an e-commerce business wants to solve, and the areas to improve.

There is a huge variety of tasks and processes that can be dramatically improved and sped up with the adoption of AI. Furthermore, there are endless possibilities of how to use AI chatbots for e-commerce businesses. Plus, there are many examples of use cases from real companies, with proven results.

Growing Popularity of Chatbots for E-commerce

AI technology continues to evolve and offers ever-better solutions for e‑commerce. Big businesses, as well as small ones, are finding their ways to use chatbots to assist their customers. The market numbers can tell us a lot about the popularity of chatbots and how these AI tools are becoming conventional e-commerce solutions. 

According to Business Insider, the chatbot market size is expected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2019 to $9.4 billion by 2024 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29.7%. 

According to SuperOffice40% of consumers prefer self-service over human contact. There are multiple questions that do not require human agent involvement. The repetitive questions can be easily answered by bots that use conversational interface to imitate human-to-human conversation. 

Chatbot as online shopping assistant
A web shop can build a unique customer experience with a chatbot shopping assistant.

The studies show that 47% of consumers are open to buying items using a chatbot. Moreover, 57% are interested in getting information from chatbots when they visit a brand’s business website. 

Customers expect prompt responses to their inquiries, and it is not surprising that 64% of internet users say 24/7 availability is the best feature of chatbots. If response time is too slow, the customer experience can be negatively impacted.

Some businesses have multilingual customers. It might be costly to hire a number of representatives speaking different languages. Yet, AI chatbots can speak different languages thanks to language integrations.

Why is a multilingual chatbot a good e-commerce solution? According to Common Sense Advisory Research74% of customers said they were more likely to make a second purchase if post-sales support was offered in their native language.

Finally, recent developments related to COVID-19 has shown how AI chatbots can be useful in e‑commerce. In the last few months the value of digital channels has increased, and the way people shop has changed.The digital trends have put e-commerce under huge pressure.

Businesses without proper technology had difficulties to cope with the sudden spike in demand during the coronavirus pandemic. More and more businesses have started to realize that they need technology to survive and therefore they have shown interested in AI chatbot technology.

The article is based on the interview between Patrycja Hala Saçan and Mie Bilberg. 

The article was written by Patrycja Hala Saçan.

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